The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship will feature four drivers making their first career Chase appearance.
Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon are looking to overcome the odds and become champions.
They make up a quarter of the 16-car Chase field, and as they say, “you’ve gotta be in it to win it.”
So, what can we expect from each of these four drivers in the Chase?
Team: Chip Ganassi Racing, No. 42 Chevrolet
Best Finish: 1st, August Michigan
Crew Chief: Chad Johnston
Kyle Larson is the most dangerous driver in the 16-car Chase field. In the two races since his first career win three weeks ago, Larson has finished third at Darlington followed by a second at Richmond, respectively.
After getting the long-awaited first win lifted from his chest, we’re starting to see one of the stars of the Sprint Cup Series blossom. He is a threat to win races weekly, and if he can put 10 full races together, watch out. Larson’s team is hot right now heading into the Chase and is one of my picks to make it to the final round in Homestead, maybe getting a win or two along the way.
Team: Front Row Motorsports, No. 34 Ford
Best Finish: 1st, August Pocono
Crew Chief: Bob Osborne
Let’s give credit where it’s due: out of the four rookies in the class of 2016, Chris Buescher was talked about the least, yet became the first winner of the group. After his win at Pocono, he clawed his way into the top 30 in points to be Chase-eligible, and he’s made it to the big dance. Anything he does from here on out is gravy.
Perhaps even more impressive than his win at Pocono was his top-five a few weeks later at
Bristol. Buescher has exceeded expectations given the equipment he is in. I don’t see this team advancing past the first round, but what an accomplishment it is for this team even to get into the Chase.
Team: Hendrick Motorsports, No. 24 Chevrolet
Best Finish: 2nd, Michigan (twice)
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
Chase Elliott has done a tremendous job (though he won’t admit it) at filling the driver’s seat of the famous No. 24. Elliott stepped into a team that raced for the championship last season with Jeff Gordon, and outside of getting a win, has outperformed their statistics.
Most people were aware of his talent level, but no one thought he would be contending for wins as early in his career as he has shown so far. His maturity is that of a veteran, and if he has a little fun, he could go a couple of rounds. I don’t think this team is quite championship-caliber, but I didn’t think Jeff Gordon’s team last year was championship-caliber until he won at Martinsville.
Team: Richard Childress Racing, No. 3 Chevrolet
Best Finish: 3rd, May Talladega
Crew Chief: Slugger Labbe
Austin Dillon is the lone Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in the Chase and has shown signs at times of running with the leaders, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together and get a win. Needless to say, this team is still young and only getting better. Just a couple years ago, RCR stablemate, Ryan Newman made it all the way to the final round, having never won a race.
Dillon would rather get a win, but
to do so, he will certainly need to run better at the opening three races (Chicagoland, Loudon, Dover) of the Chase than history shows. I expect Dillon to make it through to the second round, but this team isn’t quite ready this year for a title run.
Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
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